SLA outside North America – “Think Locally, Act Globally” – James King, Chapter Cabinet Chair candidate

Most companies recognize that a key to long term growth is having a presence on the international stage.  Also, global networking is a key trait of a great leader because it forces us to face our stereotypes and think more broadly.  If SLA is going to continue to grow, our association must continue to improve the real and perceived value of SLA to a non-U.S. audience.

Before implementing anything, I would first want to work with international chapters to understand what value they currently get out of SLA and, more importantly, what barriers exist that limit that value.  In advance of those meetings, I perceive three primary areas in which to focus in order to encourage more international participation:

  • International members playing roles in SLA governance
  • Adjusting the conference/meeting experience
  • Supporting international chapters to provide better value at the local level

I strongly believe that the first way to improve international participation is to change the mindset from within.  Since most of the association leaders live and work in the U.S., we have a natural and unperceived bias to think locally.  By having international members play active roles in divisions, chapters, committees, and the association board, we can more easily identify and change those hidden biases.  Having Kate Arnold as our first international President-Elect is already having an impact on perceptions at the HQ and Board levels.  Both chapters and divisions can also play a role in the internalization of our association by leaning on technology to foster and support non-U.S. chairs/presidents and board members.

One big way that the U.S. bias is on display is in our scheduling. Most of our meetings and presentations occur during times that are most convenient to those living in the continental U.S.  Those in Europe, Asia or Australia who want to remotely connect are forced to do so in the evening or the middle of the night.  In thinking about our conferences, I recognize that attending from outside the U.S. is roughly double the cost of a North American attendee.  That does not foster participation in one of the key networking events of the association.  I would first explore more use of live and recorded streaming of keynotes and breakout sessions (like was done with the recent virtual conference), but also couple those virtual sessions with alternate communication channels (Twitter, HackPad, etc.) to encourage virtual networking.  Also, I would strongly advocate for the creation of a SLA Annual Conference in Europe during my tenure.  Another active community that I’m a part of (Drupal) hosts an annual conference in the summer in the U.S. and a winter conference in Europe.  This has resulted in a very strong global community and is a model that we should explore.  Since SLA has a lot of lessons learned from hosting large conferences, creating conference toolkits for use by divisions or chapters, especially international chapters, could foster more SLA conferences around the world.  I would want to review the work of the Conference Re-envisioning Task Force before making too many changes to the conference experience but I believe that the increased participation and value gained by making conferences more accessible will more than make up for any dip in attendance at a “one size fits all” conference.

Finally, after speaking with our international chapters, I would explore ways that SLA could help those leaders to grow their membership and participation.  Those ways could include partnerships between U.S. and international chapters to help sponsor conference travel costs and increased support for global mentoring initiatives amongst chapters and divisions.  In addition to offering our training and mentoring, we should also support training and mentoring flowing from the international community since U.S. audiences have much to learn about working in a multilingual economy.  I would also want to put our money where our talking is by exploring whether a change in the allotment schedule or special grants for some international chapters would help them to better serve their members.


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